June 27, 2022
One of the most important and influential abstract visual artists in the U.S. has died: Sam Gilliam, a great colorist whose work influenced generations of artists, was 88 years old. Gilliam’s death on Saturday was announced by the Pace Gallery, which had represented him since 2019, and the David Kordansky Gallery, which had represented him since 2012. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Miss., in 1933 as the seventh child of eight to a father who worked on the railroad and a homemaking mother. He attended the University of Louisville for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but in 1962 moved to Washington, D.C., where he lived and had his studio for the rest of his life. He became one of the leading artists of the Washington Color School — a 1950s movement that emphasized large fields of color.
He was very interested in freeing his paintings from the boundaries of canvases and frames. Instead, in his Drape works of the 1960s, he took unstretched canvases and hung them from ceilings or pinned them in great waterfalls to walls. Each time his work — part painting, part sculpture — was installed in an exhibition, it hung differently, never the same way twice.
In a 2018 Morning Edition profile, Gilliam explained that the intention behind his Drape work was “to develop the idea of movement into shapes” — and that he was inspired by laundry hanging from a clothesline.